Being Black in Cuba

At the intersection of Acosta Avenue and Calzada 10th of October, around 11 pm, a police van detained a group of people who carried bookbags or handbags. Inside the vehicle there were seven young black men who were detained and handcuffed. With blank stares, they clearly questioned the motives for their detentions.

Lieutenant Delfin Carneado did not know how give them a concrete response. “Shut up”, was what he told them. A frail mulatto with an afro and various green and yellow bracelets on his left wrist, wished to know if the cause of his being suspected of some presumed crime was the color of his skin.

Lieutenant Carneado stared at him coldly and answered: “I am not a scholar, but I do know that the majority of thieves are black”.  The lieutenant said something that was right. According to reliable sources, 88% of prisoners for common crimes in Cuba are either mestizo or black.

The Ministry of the Interior has never published any statistics about the number of common prisoners on in the island and their ethnic classifications. There is a statistic that states that in Cuba there are more than 100,000 behind bars, this is according to estimates made by human rights activists.

If 88% of these are mestizo or black, then the numbers are shocking. This would mean that within the island’s prisons there could be over 88,000 Afro-Cubans. Blacks are involved in 8 out of 10 bloody events that finish in death. They are also more prone to theft, pickpocketing, armed theft, and rapes.

Of course, blacks live in the worst neighborhoods in the most precarious of homes and most come from fractured families.  In a discourse by Fidel Castro on February 7, 2003, he acknowledged that the revolution “had not achieved the same success for eradicating the differences in social and economic status for the black population of the country.”

Seven out of ten managers of important businesses are white. In high political positions not even 10 percent of the positions are filled by blacks. If we consider the census of 2002 to be factual, then 34% of Cubans are either mulattoes or blacks.

Ethnologists and sociologists do not consider these statistics to be accurate, instead they state that the true numbers of black and mestizo citizens in Cuba ranges somewhere around the 60% mark. The numbers and the routines ring true when it comes to the police squad headed by lieutenant Delfin Carneado which operates in the late hours of the night and detains a considerable number of dark-skinned men.

It’s common. Before any operation or round-up blacks are the first suspects. That is why lieutenant Carneado does not have an answer to offer the young man with an afro who wishes to know if his arrest has something to do with prejudices. Perhaps it isn’t a racial problem. Habits, sometimes, are stronger than certain laws.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.